Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A New Name

This past shabbat, I was called to the Torah by my new Hebrew name for the first time. Hearing my chosen name (read on for the story behind it) proclaimed as I was called to bless and chant from the Torah scrolls raised the hairs on the back of my neck and sent chills up and down my spine. Even better, a good friend was the one to say it for the first time.

Here is the back story. My wonderful friend J.M. long ago changed her (legal) name as part of her healing/recovery process from incest/child abuse/ritual abuse. Since I heard her speak about how and why she changed her name, I've thought about whether or not I'd ever do the same. Reflecting and meditating on the question led me to decide a few months ago that I would change the "daughter of" part of my Hebrew name.

[A bit of background on Hebrew names. Jews have names in our daily life and a religious name. The religious name is used at life cycle events, when prayers are said on someone's behalf and when a person is called to bless or read/chant from the Torah. In Israel, the ritual name and common name are often the same. In the diaspora, some parents give a child a common name (like Susan) and a ritual name (like Leah) which are not necessarily connected. If the family is Ashkenazi (meaning they or their ancestors come from Eastern Europe) the ritual name is usually after a deceased family member. If the family is Sephardi (meaning they or their ancestors come from Spain, North Africa or other parts of the Mediterranian) then the name is usually after a living relative. The format of the name is: name then son/daughter of father + mother (or if a convert to Judaism son/daughter of Abraham and Sarah).]

Changing the "daugther of" part of my name is a way of disconnecting my parents from the important role that Judaism has in my life. Certainly, they decided to raise me Jewish and provided for a bit of a Jewish education, but my Jewishness and identity is mine and mine alone. It has felt polluted to step up to Torah, a precious gift that has been a great help to me, and to hear the ritual names of my parents. So, I decided to change that part. After much thought and reflection, including looking at the Hebrew names of the people whom I consider to be family, I took parts of their names and put them together into Leah bat Brachah v'Hayyim, or Leah daugther of Life and Blessing. So many people have and continue to be a life-affirming blessing. Thank you.

So that is the story of my new name.
Wishing you a thriver day,
Your sister survivor,

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